Is It Wrong to Complain?

Lehi’s journey to the American continent mirrors Moses’s earlier journey to the land of Israel in many ways. One of those similarities is the incessant murmuring by some people during the journey.

The children of Israel complained about bitter water (Exodus 15:23-25), about a lack of food (Exodus 16:1-15), and about a lack of water (Exodus 17:1-7). Every time, the Lord miraculously solved the problem. But every time they encountered a new obstacle, they feared the worst and compared their circumstances unfavorably with the life they had left behind:

Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger (Exodus 16:3).

Likewise, two of Lehi’s sons, Laman and Lemuel, complained throughout their journey. They complained about having to leave their home in Jerusalem (1 Nephi 2:11).. They complained about having to return for the brass plates (1 Nephi 3:5). They complained when their brother Nephi broke his bow (1 Nephi 16:20). They complained when Nephi asked them to help him build a ship (1 Nephi 17:17-18).

All of this complaining had one thing in common: it led to inaction. The children of Israel rebelled against Moses and refused to enter the promised land when they heard that it would be difficult. Laman and Lemuel constantly advocated for giving up. “Let’s go back and tell our father we couldn’t obtain the plates.” “Don’t even try to build the ship.” They are not identifying issues in order to figure out how to overcome them. They are identifying issues in order to make the case for doing nothing. Their goal is destructive, not constructive, and their language is discouraging, not hopeful.

But what should we do when we have a real grievance, a real issue that needs resolving? Isn’t it better to say something than to keep our mouths shut?

Acknowledging challenges is not complaining. Asking for help is not complaining.

When the blind beggar on the side of the road cried out repeatedly, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me” (Luke 18:38-39), he wasn’t complaining; he was making a hopeful request. When Alma asked a stranger, “Will ye give to an humble servant of God something to eat?” (Alma 8:19), he was asking for help, not complaining about his situation.

Elder Orson F. Whitney once said:

The spirit of the gospel is optimistic; it trusts in God and looks on the bright side of things. The opposite or pessimistic spirit drags men down and away from God, looks on the dark side, murmurs, complains, and is slow to yield obedience (General Conference, April 1917).

At one point, a military leader named Helaman wrote to his commanding officer, Moroni, with a status update. As part of that update, he needed to communicate an issue they faced: a lack of manpower to maintain the cities that they had recaptured. In the letter, Helaman explained the situation clearly, but he avoided complaining by admitting his own imperfect knowledge and by expressing his faith in God:

Behold, we do not know but what ye are unsuccessful, and ye have drawn away the forces into that quarter of the land; if so, we do not desire to murmur.
And if it is not so, behold, we fear that there is some faction in the government, that they do not send more men to our assistance; for we know that they are more numerous than that which they have sent.
But, behold, it mattereth not—we trust God will deliver us… (Alma 58:35-37).

Helaman managed to deliver important information about a difficult situation without hopelessness or criticism. He was cognizant of the importance of avoiding complaining, even as he acknowledged that he was in a difficult situation.

Today, I will avoid murmuring or complaining. I will speak in hopeful and constructive terms and avoid negative patterns of thought. Particularly when I need to make other people aware of a bad situation, I will do so in a way that expresses my trust in God and my hope for the future.

7 thoughts on “Is It Wrong to Complain?

Add yours

  1. Awesome article, thanks for sharing. I feel that there is a big difference in thinking critically and asking for help versus mere grumbling. One leads to action and progression; the other supports inaction.

    An exapmle of this is when Moroni wrote to the government in Alma 60 and rebuked them due to their negligence to help their troops. I would say that this is a justifiable complaint, especially since Moroni was blaming the Nephite leaders, not God. In fact he was prompted by the Lord to battle against them unless they repented. Moroni displays phenomenal strength of character here.


    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree that there is a difference between raising issues and grumbling. The Moroni example is an excellent one—he was obviously more forceful than Helaman. He had some of his facts wrong—he seems to have assumed that Pahoran was in the wrong. Thank goodness that Pahoran was meek enough to react to Moroni’s intent instead of being offended by Moroni’s delivery! I agree with you that this is an example of raising issues constructively vs. complaining or murmuring. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Not trying to imply sexist thinking. Sariah and the daughters of Ishmael had some sore complaining that was quoted in the book of Nephi. Sisters do contribute far more than pointing out issues, I understand. I often hear of people saying that their wives never complained, i somehow doubt that. What is at the heart of the complaint? Is it ingratitude? Is it asking for support while invoking some guilt? I have heard from relationship advice that people sometimes want help and other times its just to vent. As a husband if I vent that my boss is a lazy jerk, I really don’t want my wife going to his office and yelling at him. I would prefer she listen be calm and not tell me how to handle the situation. I think women experience the same thing when venting to men vs. wanting their situation to change. What is healthy venting and is there such a thing?


    1. Thank you for the comment. I appreciated the chance to reflect again on the difference between raising issues and complaining. I agree with you that neither gender has a monopoly on murmuring. I also agree that, when people complain they often just want a listening ear, not a rescuer.
      I think it is healthy to be honest about our feelings, but I think we should be careful when our venting includes complaining about other people. When you are unhappy with someone, you might try to do the opposite: talk about their positive qualities, and think of reasonable explanations for their actions. Good luck!


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